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My Short Films

Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Grandmother's Love

Early in the morning of 29th of December 2007 at Ipoh, an elderly woman was attacked by two snatch thieves trying to take away her handbag. It happened only a few blocks away from her own house as she was returning from her daily gathering with friends.

There was a struggle.

The leather bag was ripped apart, revealing nothing inside. The two snatch thieves sped off in their motorbike, the woman fell facefirst onto the ground.

An Indian woman and her brother were nearby and they helped her up, the old woman's nose was already bleeding profusely and semi-conscious. Another woman recognized her and hurriedly, the trio brought the old woman back home to the son and daughter-in-law she is staying with.

That old woman was my grandmother.

Mom and the guests (grandma, uncle, aunt + cousins) of her 'surprise birthday party'
Photo taken last month during mom's birthday party. From left to right: Dad, cousin Hing Yip, mom, Auntie Soon Mui, my sister, 1st Uncle (Auntie Soon Mui's husband), cousin Fung Ming, me and Grandma


My mother received the panicked phone call from my auntie Soon Mui (her elder sister) about this incident yesterday morning shortly after we had breakfast. They were at the clinic, my mother asked them to send my grandmother to the Ipoh Specialist Centre immediately.

The details we got were vague, and at that moment, we underestimated the severity of the situation.

All I knew then was that she was attacked by snatch thieves and fell during a struggle, injuring her leg (she was unable to walk when the kind people helped her home).

My mom decided to drive to Ipoh immediately to see my grandmother (it's a 2-hour ride away from Kuala Lumpur), my sister and I followed, we also brought Cousin Fung Ming (she's Auntie Soon Mui's daughter) along. Dad was away for an appointment.

While we were in the car, from the subsequent phone calls my mom made, we got more details about the situation.

My grandmother couldn't recognize people around her anymore, and she was mumbling incoherently. It was trauma, and also that she had injured the left part of her brain during the fall, thus affecting her speech.

It also didn't help much that my grandmother suffers from Alzheimer's. I believe she has already reached the middle stage of the disease, constantly having short-term memory losses. Sometimes she can't remember things that happen earlier in the day or the night before, and she can watch the same episode of a drama series over and over again without realizing that she had already watched it. She had already forgotten that two years ago, she had visited me in Perth, or why was I even in Perth.

I have already accepted the fact that she is slowly fading away from us. But I could take comfort from the fact that everyday for her is a happy one.

Yet what happened to her made us seethe in anger during our journey to Ipoh. Towards the cowardly snatch thieves, who I wished would suffer a fate ten times worse than hers. Since when had our nation became so messed up that even innocent old women can't venture few blocks outside her house alone in the morning?

Why did she have to go out by herself? Why didn't she ask anyone to accompany her? My grandmother had always been too considerate. Despite her condition, she would rather help others than to trouble others into helping her. And thus something like this happened.

She was in the ICU when we arrived. Our uncles and aunties and cousins were waiting outside the ward, my grandmother needed a 24-hour observation. Either things would stabilize, or we would have to prepare for the worst.

Some cousins were in tears, some uncles and aunties were holding back tears. Previous family dysfunctionality was put aside, grandmother's well-being was in everyone's minds.

Only 2 visitors were allowed each time into the room. So my mom and Auntie Soon Mui entered first, my sister and I followed and could only stand in the distance to look. Grandmother was awake when mom stood beside her, and she vomited. My mom called for the nurses, who hurried bring along tissue papers and plastic bags for grandmother to use.

My sister and I were then asked by a nurse to leave the room first, to wait for our turn. I felt Cousin Hing Yip (he's Cousin Fung Ming's younger brother) placing his hands on my shoulder, he was devastated, he needed the feeling of warmth from another as comfort, perhaps. Cousin Fung Ming placed her arms around a younger cousin sister of mine, allowing her to cry in her arms.

Mom came out, teary eyed, and asked us to enter, telling us that grandmother wanted to see us now.

We went and stood beside grandmother. Many have praised my grandmother's beauty, saying that she looked years younger than her actual age, and that essential, my mom had inherited this 'youthfulness' from her. Yet the old woman lying on the bed whose cold and clammy hand I held was pale, her hair grey, and her eyes swollen and puffy.

Grandmother seemed to acknowledge our presence when we both tried to speak to her. She was trying to speak, but what came out of her mouth were gibberish and incomprehensible. Yet they sounded like Buddhist prayers (my grandmother had always been very pious, often helping out in this Buddhist temple near her place).

"We're here with you, your sons, your daughters, your in-laws, your beloved grandchildren, they are all here, waiting outside, you don't have to be afraid." My mom said to grandmother.

My sister and I said something as well, comforting words, telling her that we're here.

Grandmother's eyes were fixed upon me and my sister, there were hints of recognition towards my mother's voice and our presence. My sister patted her shoulder gently while I continued holding grandmother's hand. The muttering grew softer. Slowly she closed her eyes, and gradually she fell asleep.

"She just grew calmer after she saw both of you." One of our aunties said to us after we left the ward.

I think I felt some sort of emotional paralysis then. There weren't anger nor sorrow, my eyes were dry, because I believed grandmother would be all right. I was stone-faced and quiet, but I knew I needed to cling to the belief.

After supper, Mom and Auntie Soon Mui opted to stay overnight in the hospital for grandmother. My mom needed the company, so I stayed. My sister felt that it would be pointless for her to sleep in any of our uncle or auntie's houses in Ipoh if both my mom and I were in the hospital, so she stayed too.

It's not difficult for me anyway, considering that I often stay up overnight, and I could sleep anywhere I wanted, be it indoors or outdoors.

Even so, we weren't allowed to visit grandmother in the ICU after 11pm. The Ipoh Specialist Centre is the best hospital in Ipoh, with the best doctors from the State, but sadly, the building we were at were old and delapidated, very unlike the fine Specialist Centers I'm used to in Sunway or Subang, but more like an old general hospital. There weren't any air conditioners at the corridor, just a tiny fan that blew only towards a single direction.

We passed our hours chatting with each other, and with a stroke patient's wife. She had spent the last three nights staying outside the ICU, waiting for her husband.

I also had my sister's Nintendo DS, which I struggled with mightily to conquer Super Mario Kart, albeit with frustrating results.

There was an empty air-cond room beside us, ever resourceful and cunning, we 'borrowed' (of course, we asked the nurses very politely) two resting armchairs from the closet and brought it into the empty air-cond room so we could all take turns and sleep in there. My sister and I were the first ones to sleep, then mom woke me up an hour later so she could sleep in there. Auntie Soon Mui continued talking to the stroke patient's wife at the seats in the corridor. I sat at one of the chairs next to them and continued sleeping.

Without looking at the watch, one would find it hard to judge the time of the day at the corridor outside the ICU. There weren't any windows, the white flourescent lights continued glowing throughout the whole day, but 10am in the morning arrived unannounced. Drowsily I woke up and left the seats because the relatives of other patients in the ICU needed to sit, I stumbled into the cafetaria and had really horrible nasi lemak for breakfast.

The phone rang as I made my way back to the ICU, it was my sister, telling me that grandmother was awake.

I entered the room again. Mom and Auntie Soon Mui were standing beside grandmother. This time, some colour had returned to her face, she looked at me when I was near her.

"Mother, you don't have to say anything, we understand what you want." My mom said cheerfully. "So you better rest your energies, okay? You'll be getting lots of visitors today, see? Edmund is here. We've spent the whole night at the hospital waiting for you to wake up, and you look so much better today!"

Grandmother smiled brightly without saying a single word, she understood what my mom said.

She smiled even more when I greeted her and told her that she was looking fine, and that all of us would wait for her to recover so she could come to Kuala Lumpur.

And then, grandmother's visitors came. My uncles and aunties, my cousins, then the abbott of the temple my grandmother had always volunteered at, after that, we had other relatives, and many other friends of my grandmother's. We also had the neighbours, or fellow temple-goers who knew my grandmother.

In the afternoon, the corridor was crowded with people who wanted to see grandmother.

The '2 visitors a time' rule in the ICU became '6 visitors a time' since there were much too many people to visit grandmother.

My grandmother is very popular.

At 2pm today, mom, my sister, cousin Fung Ming and I had to leave Ipoh.

We couldn't say goodbye to grandmother because we didn't want to cause unnecessary panic for her, so we just entered the room and spoke to her again.

Again, mom's words to grandmother were comforting, and grandmother just smiled and nodded occasionally. Mom told grandmother that she was in the hospital because she accidentally fell.

I stood beside grandmother again.

"Get well soon, okay, grandma? I'm going to make some new films for you to watch soon once you come to Kuala Lumpur." I said.

Grandmother tried to speak. Her speech was slurred and unclear. But I nodded and grinned.

Then slowly she reached out her hand and brushed her fingers on my stomach.

"I know, I'm getting fatter huh, grandma?" I chuckled.

Grandmother continued to smile.

My chuckle sounded like a croak. For that one brief moment, I found myself blinking back tears.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Atonement'



I didn't know what to expect from ATONEMENT. The film had received mostly glowing reviews and is one of the favourites to get a Best Picture nomination in next year's Oscars, but I had been worried that it would be another one of those stuffy and boring period romances filled with sheer pretentiousness and self-importance that would leave me wondering what all the fuss was about.

I haven't read the novel that this film is adapted from (Saturday's the only Ian McEwan book I've read), nor have I seen director Joe Wright's previous film, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Thus making the film even more of an enigma to me (I only know the plot rather vaguely)

In the end, I left the theater this afternoon impressed. But I really wasn't too emotionally affected or touched by the film despite it being a tragedy, I was more awed by the filmmaking, the acting and the production values. It's like reading a poetry and appreciate it for the beauty of its rhythm and flow, or the language used, before getting into its content.

ATONEMENT can be accused of featuring some really show-offy filmmaking methods, and it's unsurprising, since Joe Wright himself told the audiences at Hay Festival that he likes showing off. Shots are all well-composed, the warm colour palettes used during the first act of the film reflects the idyllic existence of an old English mansion during the early 20ths century, then a switch to cold colour palettes during the middle part of the film, to show the bleakness of war.

The stylish editing occasionally makes the film look like a music video, or strangely, reminds me of Wong Kar Wai (Robbie writing the letter, the interrogation scenes, the arrival of war patients at Briony's place etc.) And the memorable music score which occasionally uses typewriters as a musical instrument. It's just so well-crafted, yet... everything, even the art direction, seem to be begging for attention from audiences!

Because of this, the acting feels subdued instead, yet effective. Lesser actors would have destroyed this film. Having Ben Affleck as the lead would have turned this into PEARL HARBOUR, but since we have James McAvoy, he made us feel sorry for the tragic Robbie. Keira Knightley had always looked good, but in this film as Cecilia, she is transformed into a screen goddess (despite the fact that her character is really just the secondary female character of the story). Their star-crossed romance isn't something I've never seen before, but because their acting is so good that I ended up feeling their anguish, their yearning, without retching. Like I said, this could have easily turned into PEARL HARBOUR if I could barely feel anything for the star-crossed lovers.

A 5-minute-long continuous tracking shot is mentioned in most reviews of this film, and that scene, which shows the Dunkirk retreat, was definitely mindblowing. The camera weaves in and out from Robbie and two other soldiers as they make their way through the beach, gradually showing the whole situation. Sebastian had accused this scene in his review as a superficial display of virtuosity, more distracting than poetic, I belong to the camp that thinks of it as poetic. I believe the situation could be revealed via more conventional means, but it would lack the grandeur and majesty brought forth from this shot.

But here's my minor problem with the film. That particular scene was so incredible to me that I somehow felt that everything that occurred after that weren't that big a deal, including the supposedly heartbreaking ending with Vanessa Redgrave as the old Briony. Though the quality of the film fell from 'amazing' to 'good', it's still a noticeable drop. And I found myself mildly distracted by thoughts of that scene during the rest of the film.

It does make me wonder, however, whether normal audiences will notice anything when they watch the one-take scene. Sigh.

(Unrelated, but I find it mildly depressing that most people here actually like the horrible NATIONAL TREASURE 2 more than I AM LEGEND. When I see so many people in this country actually liking STARDUST and RUSH HOUR 3, I start to question my own tastes in films)


Atonement trailer


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ten Things About Men and Women

1. Size
Men
: Big things excite you.
Big bossoms, big curves, big cars, big money, big bodily appendages … and if I continue I would have men wanking to this post.
Women: Tiny things become you.
Fuelled by our intemperate desire to look thin, we either starve or surgically re-sculpture ours bodies. Hearing people associate us with thinness, even morbid remarks like, ‘You’re so thin … do you have cancer?’ fill our hearts with joy.

2. Sex
Men: You feel tired after ejaculation.
Seriously. Anyone care to explain this?! But if it’s too scientific, I’ll probably fall asleep so don’t bother.
Women: You feel tired … of having to pretend you had as much fun as he did.
What’s the deal? We CAN’T enjoy sex as much as men, our orgasm mailbox are emptier than men’s and complicated sex positions always involve us doing all the onerous work. =(

3. Appeal
Men
: Boobs. Ass. Legs.
You find it socially acceptable to demand for big breasts but not at all to have your manhood crushed by girls who find that your penis doesn’t measure up.
Women: Personality. Face.
You find it socially acceptable to demand for adequately shaped and sized penis because they contribute almost completely to pleasure during sex while boobs play a 50% role.

4. Talking
Men: Huh? What is this thing called talking?
Women: Huh? How did you know I was just thinking about this a minute ago? And one hour ago? Also about two hours ago?
Talking is what men call muttering the words, ‘Uh-huh.’ to our heart-felt questions while moving their hands continuously in a left-right direction to tell us to move because we are blocking the television. We have no choice but to conjecture that talking is a higher form of interaction and communication that men cannot possibly fathom.

5. Shopping
Men: You silently thank the Lord when you see shops that have seats.
Women: You silently thank the Lord when you see any shop at all.

6. Priorities
Men
: Career/family, family/career, friends, entertainment.
Where else is a man most often spotted? OT at the office, drinking at clubs, scoring at golf course, meetings on business trips, talking about office, clubs, golf courses and business trips on family gatherings.
Women: Looking good, looking fabulous, looking gorgeous.

7. Solving problems
Men:

Step One: Ignore problem.
Step Two: Still ignore problem.
Step Three: Confront problem.
Step Four: Ignore problem.
Step Five: Punch problem.
Women:
Step One: Wear nicer clothes than problem.
Step Two: Spread nasty rumors about problem.
Step Three: Date problem’s boyfriend.
Step Four: Problem becomes another problem.

8. Masturbating
Men: A must-do, must-try, must-see activity.
Women: Nah.

9. Regarding Transformers
Men: Awesome movie! It rocks! Five Stars! Best movie of the year! Hands down! AWESOME MOVIE! Coolest movie ever made! It rocks big time! Transformers, a must-watch! Robots! Action! Hot chick! Fantastic movie!
Women: Of course I loved that movie. It was probably the greatest movie of the … oh look a butterfly.

10. Christmas presents
Men: Last minute shopping is mandatory.
Condoms, period pads and tampons make good and frequent gifts.
Women: Last minute shopping is tempting, even when you’ve bought the Christmas presents in March.
There is just this inevitable thrill about shopping, even for others. What’s more with Christmas songs playing full blast and Christmas decorations inundating the malls, it just sets the ideal ambience. The result? Presents from women are always better than presents from guys.

11. Life Partner
Men: What you see is what you mustn't get.
It is inscrutable why men drool over girls wearing revealing outfits and lots of make-up but their girlfriend/wife must dress modestly with minimum make-up.
Women: What you see, you definitely must get.
Rich, good-looking and beefy arms ... you better not be imaginary.

I promised Swifty I would blog and let’s just say when I made that promise, Christmas preparations haven’t even begun. Heh. Heh.

PS - I'm on the verge of desperation here!If any of you, ANY ONE OF YOU, happen to have tickets to any of Jay Chou's Kung Fu Dunk movie events and VVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVIP concert tickets in Malaysia (scheduled around February), PLEASE SPARE ME A PIECE. Please please please! I am this close to sleeping with someone for it. PLEASE!

PPS - Edited this post a bit and added number 11.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My PC.com column gives some basic tips on digital filmmaking

A while ago, Erna asked me to write a column about digital filmmaking for the December 2007 issue of PC.com magazine.

My very first column for the magazine, called 'Dreams of Digital Filming', provides some basic tips on digital moviemaking and also a sneak peek into the 'Malaysian New Wave', an independent digital film movement that captured the attention of some of the biggest international film festivals in recent years.

Minus the glossy special effects and postproduction gimmicks enjoyed by Hollywood directors, filmmaking becomes a purer form for the independent digital filmmakers, more emphasis has to be placed on content, performances, themes and mood in their attempts to engage audiences. As long as audiences do not have a preconceived notion that all films HAVE TO look as slick and glossy as Hollywood films.

Will you believe me if I tell you that when it comes to digital filmmaking, Malaysia is considered one of the best in the world? That this is one of the reasons why independent Malaysian films have received so much attention in film festivals around the world?

Often, the low-budget independent digital films from other countries I've seen, including those from United States and China, look grainy and 'home video'-ish, while the digital cinematography in most of our well-known indie films, thanks to the creative uses of visual composition and lighting, has a pristine look that is dissimilar from filmic cinematography, and good enough to not look like home videos.


To read the rest of the column, go and buy the year-end special issue of PC.com magazine at bookstores near you (Malaysia only).

Merry Christmas!

(... too bad Erna mispelled my name at the Editor's Notes though.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'National Treasure: Book of Secrets'

National Treasure: Book of Secrets


The following review of NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS by Sebastian and I contains lots of spoilers.

Read it only if you have seen the film.

Or you can actually choose to read the review first and not wasting your time with the film.

I said:
still talking to mom?

He said:
okay, done

He said:
let's begin

I said:
All right, National Treasure 2 kinda sucked.

He said:

it does

He said:

and i was watching that directly after P.S. I Love You

I said:

I actually enjoyed the first film.

He said:

never saw the first one

I said:

I thought the first film was waaaaay better than Da Vinci Code

He said:

eh?

He said:

why?

I said:

Entertaining, less self-serious, the jokes actually worked, the action was really fun

I said:

My expectations were low, so I enjoyed it back in 2004.

I said:

However, my expectations were low (if not lower) for National Treasure 2 as well, yet I ended up disappointed.

He said:

how bad is it compared to this

I said:

not disappointed, more like, underwhelmed.

I said:

or indifferent.

He said:

as in, how much more lamer are the jokes in this one compared to the first one

I said:

I can't remember the first one that much, but the cringe-inducing jokes of part 2 made part 1 look like a Judd Apatow comedy classic.

He said:

the thing that irks me though

He said:

is that ppl actually enjoyed this shit

He said:

in the cinema i was in - it started with that goofy cartoon, did you guys have it?

I said:

No.

I said:

Shit.

He said:

well, ppl were laughing at the lame goofy cartoon joke

I said:

I never really liked Goofy much compared to Mickey or Donald.

He said:

and to be honest, the whole disney thing is beginning to look disturbing, the sort of all-american, family tradition sort of feel it brings to it

He said:

which definitely translates to national treasure 2 as well

He said:

no blood, no violent scenes, no one swears

He said:

A reviewer described it this way

I said:

National Treasure 2 is meant to fuel on everyone's patriotism and nationalistic pride.

He said:

bruckheimer films are formulaic becoz it works in a critic proof sort of way, and the formula is ...

I said:

And it's tailored for the masses. A pure 'family' film.

He said:

" old-fashioned entertainment with modern production values and underlying themes of patriotism and family loyalty"

He said:
In other words, puke-inducing

I said:

But I don't blame it purely on Disney. Disney DID bring us ENCHANTED, and that one's wonderful

He said:

i guess

He said:

but as i was watching this it hit me how different i am now - i am no longer that kid that can watch those action movies the way they did it in the 90s

He said:

i NEED my action movies to be grittier, more accurate, less obvious plotholes, more intelligent

He said:

in short, i NEED children of men or i am legend or the bourne trilogy

I said:

Yup. I mean, towards the end of National Treasure 2, I kinda lost track of the plot

He said:

i cannot stoop down to watch national treasure anyway ... they actually bore me

He said:

seriously, it's hard to concentrate when throughout much of the film i'm just waiting for ed harris to die

He said:
oops, spoilers - not really, you dickwads, any idiot can see it 100 mins down the line

I said:

I mean, I was like, yeah, er, so, why did that lost page of the diary say that the Gates' ancestor was the mastermind of Lincoln's assassination

He said:

... and how does finding the lost city prove thomas gates' innocence again? no idea, dont care

I said:

Ed Harris's character suffers from script schizophrenia.

I said:

Am I supposed to hate him?

He said:

gosh, yeah

I said:

Feels like a decent bloke the whole time.

He said:

i feel sorry for helen mirren

He said:

every single time, you know ... best actress winners

He said:

at least she wasnt BAD in this one ... just, out of place

I said:

Well, at least it's just a small role.

I said:

Not Catwoman or Aeon Flux

He said:

yup yup

He said:

and jon voight ... well, at least his character makes more sense here than in transformers

I said:
Shit, I forgot he was in Transformers.

He said:

in fact, about accuracy, i couldnt help but notice in the beginning of the film

He said:

the way the characters talk sound NOTHING like 19th century americans

I said:

Haha, yeah.

He said:

i mean, c'mon

I said:

I mean, I like these conspiracy theories and shit.

He said:

it's like, the american public no longer cares about accuracy, all they want is family fun shit, no one swears

I said:

It's the films' main appeal. (... along with Da Vinci Code)

He said:

and they want the jokes to be so watered down

He said:

the conspiracy theories here arent interesting at all, downright dull

I said:

yeah, the Justin Bartha character is so... cringe-inducing

He said:

... yeah

I said:

and the Nic Cage - Diane Kruger love-hate relationship is so... sheesh

I said:

can't they be like Julianne Moore - Clive Owen in Children of Men?

He said:

but hey, nice casting bruce greenwood - reprising kennedy from thirteen days, perhaps? haha

I said:

Yeah, that one, I like.

I said:

Hell, the short moment between Bruce Greenwood's prez and Gates may have been the highlight of the film.

He said:

plotwise, though, kidnapping the president - what?

I said:

Should've let that last longer

He said:

first of all, it is NOT that outrageous ... what's outrageous is that it isnt outrageous enough

I said:

had him following them throughout the rest of the adventure

He said:

after all the fuss the other characters made

I said:

Yeah

I said:

I saw it with my friend, Hui Jing, who is also a film student

I said:

She was yawning after they reached the library of congress

He said:

haha

I said:

I lasted until when they entered the city of gold.

I said:

in Mount Rushmore

He said:

it didnt help that the music was not exciting

I said:

seriously, I don't think I can remember much after they entered the place

I said:

I was dozing off.

I said:

I snapped awake only at... um, I dunno, maybe the Helen Mirren-Jon Voight reconciliation shit

He said:

well, i didnt doze off, but john powell's music from P.S. I Love You kept playing in my head through this film

He said:

and i was thinking, i want to see P.S. I Love You again ...

He said:

which is really bad for national treasure - action scenes cant hold my attention

He said:

the car chase sequence in london just made me think, hmm, i want to see what Bourne does in a london car chase scene

I said:

Yeah, they were bland.

He said:

and how much did this film cost?

I said:

Dunno, 100+ million?

I said:

Kept under wraps.

I said:

I ain't looking forward to National Treasure 3.

He said:

yeah ... pg 47

I said:

If I were in US, I would rather watch WALK HARD or SWEENEY TODD.

He said:

was the plot to this movie hinted in the first movie?

I said:

Nope, I don't think so.

He said:

... actually, i gave sweeney todd a skip for now ... could have seen that, but i needed entertainment

He said:

havent had entertainment in so long

He said:

never thought i'd be so bored with entertainment

He said:

they need to stop making these movies ... but what irks me so much is that ppl WANT to watch these movies



NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS Trailer


Thursday, December 20, 2007

KURUS Production Diary - More production photos

We've finally completed the rough cut version of KURUS (English title: DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY) last week. When and where will the film make its world premiere remains a mystery, it could be a foreign film festival we submitted the film to, or it could local TV channel NTV7 itself.

Whenever or whatever it is, I will keep everyone informed. You can read about the synopsis of the film I posted last month.

Now, more production photos:

Ali (Zamir) striking his boxing pose
Ali (newcomer Arshad Zamir), the protagonist of the film. A boxing fan

Ali (Zamir) ponders
Ali is brooding

Ali (Zamir) knows that his dad, Budi is in trouble
He lives with his dad, Budi (Namron, 'Gubra', 'Paloh') , who works as a security guard, and constantly gets himself into trouble. Ali's the more mature one of the duo.

Father and son bonding
Ali and Budi are more like buddies than father and son

Budi (Namron) attempts to chat with Leana (Mislina)
Budi and his nosy neighbour, Leana (Mislina Mustapha, 'Mukhsin', 'Flower In The Pocket', 'Anak Halal'), who he thinks has the hots for him

Budi (Namron) and Leana (Mislina)
Namron and Mislina

Chicken head
That's a chicken head

Cat and cow dung
Cat playing with cow dung


RELATED POSTS
KURUS trailer 1
KURUS trailer 2
Photos from the KURUS press conference on the 28th of Jan.
KURUS Production Diary - 'Carmen Soo Day 1'
KURUS Production Diary - 'Carmen Soo Day 2'
KURUS Production Diary - More production photos

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Karei-naru Ichizoku (The Wealthy Family) 華麗なる一族

Karei-naru Ichizoku


So yeah, I just completed another Jdorama marathon, this time for the high-profile TBS show, Karei-naru Ichizoku 華麗なる一族. Which, I think, is made to commemorate the station's 55th anniversary.

This series is a big-budget, star-studded corporate drama filled with family dysfunction, company politics and political intrigue. It's like those long 60 to 100-episode long TVB Hong Kong drama series like THRESHOLD OF AN ERA, GREED OF MEN or the most recent DRIVE OF LIFE. But thankfully, unlike its Hong Kong counterparts, this series is only 10 episodes long (the finale is 90 minutes, which is the length of two episodes).

Synopsis borrowed from various sites:

This drama is set in the late 1960s of Japan. The main rivalry depicted in the series is between Manpyo Daisuke (Kitaoji Kinya), a powerful banker, and his eldest son, Manpyo Teppei (Kimura Takuya), the executive managing director of a steel firm. For some reasons, Daisuke seems to dislike his own son and as Teppei finds out the reason for Daisuke's hatred, his whole life is turned upside down with fatal consequences.


While series' focus is on Daisuke and Teppei, it's still very much an ensemble flick.

Daisuke has a mistress, Aiko (Suzuki Kyoka), who handles the affairs in the Manpyo household. She's a scheming temptress who exercises more power than even Daisuke's children. Daisuke's official meek old-fashioned wife Yasuko (Harada Mieko) often suffers Daisuke's infidelities and Aiko's scathing insults in silence.

Eldest son Teppei married Sanae (Hasegawa Kyoko) in an arranged marriage, but they ended up becoming a loving couple, with Sanae often providing support and encouragement to her husband whenever he's faced with difficulties.

Second son Ginpei (Yamamoto Koji), who is favoured by his father, seems perpetually apathetic. Jaded with his father's tyranny and the family's helplessness, he constantly lessens his own pain with sarcastic mockery towards those around him and drowns himself in alcohol. He later marries the free-spirited Makiko (Yamada Yu, pretty hot) in another arranged marriage.

The third child is Ichiko (Kazue Fukishi, whose poster I removed from a hotel wall in Japan many years ago to keep for myself), whose husband, the shady Mima Wataru (Nakamura Toru, was in HK films like TOKYO RAIDERS and GEN X COPS) is a dude who often does dirty spying work for his father-in-law. Wataru and Manaka are also a result of an arranged marriage by Aiko. Wataru seems interested in Aiko, constantly flirting with her when they have their private meetings.

Youngest child Futako (Aibu Saki) secretly goes out with Yoshihiko (Narimiya Hiroki, the lead in the IMA AI NI YUKIMASU series) an employee of Teppei's factory.

Go check out the MANPYO FAMILY CHART.

Now I'm done with the character introductions, I'll start with my thoughts about this series:

Wow.

This is the most spectacular looking J-dorama I've ever seen, and being a guy who had been watching J-doramas for nearly a decade, I'm not exaggerating. Directors Fukuzawa Katsuo and Yamamuro Daisuke made the series very cinematic. The mise-en-scene is of such a high standard that many times I felt that the small screen does not do some scenes justice and that they should be shown on big screen instead.

The scenery of the majestic snowy mountains, and the sets, costumes and cars that bring us back to 1960s Japan, eye-poppingly awesome production values, man. Maybe it's because I've not been exposed to big-budget Jdoramas like this, or this is really the first of its kind, where good production values are coupled with good filmmaking and great acting, hence delivering such a wonderful experience.

The few Jdoramas I watched before this, like H2 (reviewed here), or the earlier Takuya Kimura series ENGINE felt much inconsequential and fluffy (though I did enjoy them immensely!) compared to the heavy stuff in this dorama. It's engaging to watch, but it's almost difficult to go through more than 2 episodes at once because I needed to catch a breather and digest the intense stuff I subjected myself to.

As I've mentioned before, this series is masterfully-acted, there isn't a single weak performance in the series, but there are lots of GREAT performance in it.

Takuya Kimura, Kitaoji Kinya and Suzuki Kyoka's performances are the most-acclaimed in the series, earning them the BEST ACTOR, BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR and BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS at the Japanese TV Academy Awards earlier this year. Deservingly, I believe. I've been watching most of Kimura's doramas since LONG VACATION and I think this is absolutely one of the best performances in his career (... er, yes, better than his glorified cameo in Wong Kar Wai's 2046 :P). But man, WHO is Kitaoji Kinya? The guy is the MOST badass-looking old dude ever. Dripping with menace and class, Daisuke is the most complex character in the series. Sometimes you hate him for his ruthlessness, yet occasionally, you feel his pain, and believe that some decisions he made DO hurt himself as much as others. As for Suzuki Kyoko, her role is definitely one of those roles you'll love to hate. Everytime I saw her insult any one of the Manpyo family members (and she does that a lot), I shake my head in disbelief, remarking how harsh or cold, she is.

However, I personally was impressed by Yamamoto Koji's performance as the conflicted Ginpei, whose apathy hides a quiet grief and self-loathing for his and his family's plight. Constantly living in both his elder brother and his father's shadow, Ginpei finds himself nothing more than a pawn in a huge political chess and makes mocking statements about it all the time. I was first introduced to Yamamoto Koji in the classic dorama series Hitotsu Yane no Shita 1 & 2 (Under the same roof 1 and 2) , in which he was much younger, and played this disabled teenager, and already back then, he was fabulous (some of the finest and most affecting scenes of that series were with him), then I saw him again earlier this year in the horrible Ai Otsuka vehicle TOKYO FRIENDS (review here), which I went "eh? Isn't he the kid in the wheelchair in UNDER THE SAME ROOF?".

I am also particularly impressed with Hasegawa Kyoko, who elevates the supposedly bland 'loving wife' role of Sanae into a multi-nuanced character. Her screen time is limited, but she made Sanae such a wonderful character that you genuinely believe that Teppei DID fall in love with her despite their union was initially an arranged one. And you somehow feel that as long as she's with Teppei, everything will be fine because she is so understanding, and matches her husband in terms of intelligence. Even when an ex-flame reappeared into the fray (don't they all?), you are more likely going to root for her, or even know that there's no way Teppei would even consider leaving her for another woman. (and thus the whole 'ex-flame' subplot feels more like a red herring, since it ultimately became a non-issue)

The finale is quite a downer, and is almost unacceptable when I watched it just now, but gradually, everything just made sense and I just said to myself: "this is the best closure for the series, there's really no other better way to end this story". Besides, the series IS based on a novel anyway.

Soundtrack of the series is also top-notch, with its many grand orchestra pieces. The Main Theme performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra and conducted by Hattori Takayuki gives me goosebumps in many occasions. (There's also DESPERADO by The Eagles inserted in almost each episode, jarring at first, but fitting as it went on)

So yeah, this is a REALLY good series. (but then, this IS the top-rated J-dorama of 2007)


A tribute video of the composer, but moves to a live performance of one of the pieces from the dorama, REALLY stirring stuff. They start performing the AWESOME main theme during the 2:40 mark


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'I Am Legend'

I AM LEGEND poster


I AM LEGEND is NOT a film you've never seen before. While watching it, I am reminded of 28 DAYS LATER and 28 WEEKS LATER, or the more recent 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, and a bit of CASTAWAY (Will Smith DID cite Tom Hanks' performance as an influence). After all, the film IS about the last man on Earth facing vampires who were actually humans infected by virus.

However, despite the fact that it seems familiar, the film IS executed really well. And during the first two thirds of the film, I was struck by how UNHOLLYWOOD the film felt. It's uncompromising and doesn't dumb itself down, film is filled with quiet moments and long takes. I almost couldn't believe that the film was directed by Francis Lawrence (a music video director who did the much noisier Keanu Reeves-starrer CONSTANTINE). Apparently, the director was inspired by silence as effective cinema when he watched THE PIANIST once in low volume (to not disturb his newborn son).

The empty New York City is very eerie with its empty cars, streets overgrown with weeds and collapsing infrastructure. It's realistic, and has a strange kind of beauty. Scenes are played out slowly, as we see how Dr Robert Neville (Will Smith) tries to preserve his own sanity by talking to his dog like a human being, entering empty shops and speaking to mannequins that he dressed up by himelf just because he needs to pretend that they are talking back to him.

In the afternoon, he sets a table at the seaport, hoping that there are other survivors in Earth. Amd then he returns home, eats from his canned food (he often tries to hunt for deers, but seemingly never succeeds), watch recorded episodes of TODAY'S SHOW reporting the virus that swept through the world, as if to remind him of his own failure to prevent civilization's downfall.

He also tries to find the elusive cure at the private laboratory in his house for the disease. Hoping to change one of those infected creatures into a human again, just so he won't be alone anymore. At night, he and his dog are padlocked within the apartment, because it is then that the creatures come out to hunt. Often, Robert has flashbacks of his last few hours with his family (after PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, where Will Smith's son made his acting debut, he got his own younger daughter to appear this time), as he was sending them away from the city. And as the flashbacks slowly unfolded throughout, we gain an insight on the last dark hours of civilization.

Routine is the only way to keep his life going before he descends completely into madness.

I won't go more into that, but what I can say is that there are many moments of the film that are genuinely suspenseful, my fingers dug deep into the armrest as I clenched my teeth, anticipating what will happen next. Especially during this one scene when Robert Neville enters a completely dark building, searching for his dog.

However, like most people, I think the film kind of went downhill after a certain key event happened, and it became a full-blown action film. To me, the film surprised me by ending more abruptly than expected. Instead of overstaying its welcome like many Hollywood films did these days, it actually ended with me craving for MORE. It's a little disappointing, but the first two acts of the film are SO GOOD that I have to overlook this shortcoming.

This film's massive success in its opening weekend boxoffice in US ($77 million, biggest December opening of all time, breaking RETURN OF THE KING'S record) has cemented Will Smith's place as Hollywood's box-office king. And seriously, Will Smith's performance here is just as good as his Oscar-nominated work in PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS if not better. Development of this project had gone on since the 90s, I think I could still remember reports of Arnold Schwarzenegger signing on for the film, with Ridley Scott directing. Not sure what that version of the film would've looked like, but Will Smith is really good here. Hell, after his nice little streak of pretty enjoyable films beginning from HITCH (hey, I DO like it), PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS and now this, I am almost starting to forget about BAD BOYS 2 and WILD WILD WEST.

So yeah, overall, I think this is a pretty good film, just that it would've been great if it weren't for the disappointing third act.

Anyone else who had seen the film? Tell me watcha think.



I AM LEGEND trailer 1


I AM LEGEND trailer 2 (I like this trailer)


Sunday, December 16, 2007

My mom has an iPhone!!

I was in the middle of my beauty nap just now when I was awakened by mom and dad's conversation. Mom was showing dad a 'new little gadget' where 'she can check emails from her Hotmail account' and 'also many other things'.



Then noticing that I was awake, she showed it to me, telling me that she had just received an email from an acquaintance in China. Drowsily, I read the email, and tried to press some buttons on the side of the sleek-looking black 'gadget'.

"No, it's touchscreen!" Mom said, demonstrating.

Drowsily, I followed what she did to read the rest of the email.

"What's that?" Dad asked.

"It's like an iPod, but you can check emails too. And listen to music, and many things." Mom explained.

Still feeling rather drowsy, I walked into my room (I was napping at the study room in front of my laptop), and into the toilet.

Mom and dad continued talking.

"You know what? I think you need this too." Mom said.

"Hmmm." Dad replied.

"I'll get one for you during your birthday." Mom said.

"I don't need it." Dad said.

I closed the toilet door and went on with business.

When I walked out again, mom asked me to come over and help her check whether the list of phone numbers was on the 'gadget'.

I looked at the screen.

The thing loaded, just a list of MP3s.

"Hm. It's an iTunes store." I said dismissively, still NOT knowing that I was holding an iPhone.

Then I returned to my laptop, and started checking my downloads. Pretty good speed.

"Hey, give me a call now, I want to see whether the phone ring is loud enough." Mom said.

Absently, I pressed her numbers on my mobile and called.

The gadget started ringing.

What the-

I looked up and stared at the gadget.

"It's not loud enough." Mom frowned. "Need to choose another sound."

I looked at the black box beside her. It read:

iPhone

"When did you get this?" I asked, suddenly rather excited.

Yes, I've seen photos of the iPhone everywhere, on magazines, on websites, but it never occurred to me that I would actually have one IN MY HOUSE.

(Besides, my beauty nap had dulled my senses)

"Few weeks ago, in Singapore." Mom said. "Your sister said that it's too high tech and complicated to use, so I'm using it instead. I've already forgotten about it until I found it in the closet just now."

HOLY CRAP, MY MOMMA HAS AN IPHONE??????? I exclaimed soundlessly.

Mom continued fiddling with it.

Dad remained indifferent, typing on his laptop.

Me, I immediately went to blogger.com and started to write...

Umberto Eco - The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

Compared to previous years, I don't think I've been able to read as much as before, some books took me months to finish (Neal Stephenson's CRYPTONOMICON, which I admired, but didn't think was as good as SNOW CRASH), while some took me only two or three days (David Mitchell's GHOSTWRITTEN, awesome book) or mere hours (Haruki Murakami's AFTER DARK, which I mentioned here).

So I felt some sense of accomplishment after actually completing Hemingway's SUN ALSO RISES and Umberto Eco's THE MYSTERIOUS FLAME OF QUEEN LOANA in consecutive days last week. (I was reading the latter first, but felt that it was too dense, so borrowed the lighter SUN ALSO RISES from Ming Jin to read instead)

(Note that this is not really a review, but more of me chronicling some thoughts while reading the book.)

The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana


THE MYSTERIOUS FLAME OF QUEEN LOANA is said to be Umberto Eco's last novel, and was the second novel I read from the Italian writer (THE NAME OF THE ROSE was my first).

Dude's works are often challenging to read because they are so dense and philosophical, and are often filled with references to other works of literature and history. Wasn't really expecting those when I first read THE NAME OF THE ROSE, I thought it would be a simple murder mystery!

Eco's novels are really philosophy dressed as fiction.

THE MYSTERIOUS FLAME OF QUEEN LOANA is about a 59 year old antiquarian book dealer from Milan named Yambo who lost his memories due to a stroke. He can remember everything he read, but not his family and friends, nor his past or his own name. Quite a bummer. So Yambo tries to piece things together with his family and friends.

But REGARDING HENRY this ain't, as Yambo soon says bye bye to his loving family in the second act and immediately tries to recover his own memories by returning to his old home in Solara.

Finding through old vinyl records, childhood comic books, newspapers, fascist propaganda, books, magazines and other memorabilia, he was unsuccessful in regaining his memories. Though he managed to relive his own generation, and the society his father and grandfather lived in, Italians who grew up under Benito Mussolini. (We, as readers, do too, since this part is presented in text and illustrated plates, which, apparently, were from Eco's personal collection) This plotless part is rather slow and meandering, but somewhat enlightening.

Even so, it was at this point of the novel that I was overwhelmed by its sheer density (and ended up with headache), and chose to read something else instead (of course, it was also the same time I had to go off to the KURUS shoot).

After returning to this book, I endured the rather academic-like section which ended with Yambo having a great shock that caused a second attack. And the last third of the book is really a literary exploration of one's life flashing before him prior to death. In his coma, Yambo relives his memories, from his childhood to his teenage years, this is where we get a suspenseful and intense tale of wartime heroics and a sad love story, in which Yambo is desperate to chase after his memories of Lila Saba, the girl he loved as a student and ever after.

This is the part where the book becomes insanely cerebral and awesome... it just became an acid trip. The most apt description of this section is from GUARDIAN's review of the book.

Eventually, this rush of memory becomes phantasmagoric, an apocalyptic vision couched in the language of Dante and the Book of Revelation, in which all the figures of fact and fiction appear to him in a Busby Berkeley dance of hyperreality, climaxing in a horror for which the reader is unprepared.


To make it simpler, it's really like the last two episodes of NEON GENESIS EVANGELION.

And yes, the ending was heartwrenching and depressing. Totally left me in disbelief.

Won't spoil it for anyone who intends to read the book.

I have now started to read something (comparatively) lighter, David Mitchell's number9dream.

Anyone else who had read this book? Or any other works of Umberto Eco?

Oh, some excerpts from the book I liked. The self-inflicted agony that stem from unrequited love is depicted rather... accurately.

Probably hit too close to home.

Faith in the ungraspable allows me to close my penitential parenthesis. Life as a provident young man had promised me, as a reward, she who was lovely as the sun and pale as the light of the moon. But a single impure thought could snatch her away from me forever. The Unfound Isle, however, since it is unattainable, remains forever mine.


The final kiss was beautiful because Cyrano received it just as he was dying, and Roxane was thus escaping him once more, but that is precisely what I, now one with the protagonist, was so proud of. I was expiring happily, without having touched my beloved, leaving her in her heavenly state of uncontaminated dream.

With Roxane's name in my heart, all I needed was a face to go with it. The face was Lila Saba's.


(Yup, a Cyrano de Bergerac reference)

You are the most beautiful of creatures, I would never trade your broken eyes or your pallor for the beauty of all the angels in heaven! I would like to see her rise midstream, alone and still as she gazes out to sea, a creature transformed by magic into a strange and beautiful seabird, her long slender bare legs delicate as a crane's, and without importuning her with my desire I would leave her to her remoteness, the faraway princess.


Friday, December 14, 2007

A moment frozen forever in time.

A moment frozen forever in time

The 'comic strip' above comes from a scene in my short film, GIRL DISCONNECTED. The lines of dialogue between the two characters, Wiler (played by Justin, yes, guestblogger Justin) and Maya (played by Sarah Corbyn) never actually ended up in the final version of the film even though we shot the scene with the actors saying them. Thus the scene was more open-ended.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'The Warlords 投名状'



Peter Chan Ho-Sun is one of the Hong Kong directors I rather admire. Many of his works in the 90s are considered classics today, namely COMRADES: ALMOST A LOVE STORY and HE'S A WOMAN, SHE'S A MAN and his 1993 time-travelling film that starred two Tony Leungs, HE AIN'T HEAVY, HE'S MY FATHER. Being one of the co-founders of the UNITED FILMMAKERS ORGANIZATION (UFO), he's also responsible for many of the finest commercially and critically successful Hong Kong films in the 90s as producer.

I had mixed feelings about his previous work, PERHAPS LOVE (mini-review here). Impressed with the acting, liked the songs, awed by the visuals and think that the film is overall a pretty good film. But with THE WARLORDS, Peter Chan is venturing into foreign territory by making a medieval war epic instead of his usual subtle romantic films.

This film is set in the 1860s, during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1871) in the late Qing Dynasty of China. Three sworn brothers (played by Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro) join the army to help suppress the rebellion, despite their battle victories, the trio ends up turning against each other because of a woman (director/ actress/ famed blogger Xu Jinglei). The film is a remake of 'Godfather of Hong Kong Cinema' Chang Cheh's 1973 film, THE BLOOD BROTHERS, though Peter Chan denies this, saying that his film is merely heavily influenced by THE WARLORDS.

I'm sure the plot is more or less the same, just that this one is done with a much bigger budget (US$40 million) and more CG effects.

And hell, the large-scale battle scenes are REALLY impressive to look at. In fact, I think the battle scenes here may be some of the best I've ever seen in recent Chinese films. One-trick pony Peter Chan is not. I was definitely awed by the action setpieces for their gritty realism and intensity. And instead of glorifying war, this film gradually shows that war is a necessary evil, that even the noblest of heroes would lose shreds of their humanity in war, and ugly incidents that stemmed from a battle began the internal conflict between the protagonists.

Plot and characters ended up feeling underdeveloped due to the major effort put in staging those spectacular battle scenes. The sketchy characters are aided by the fact that they were played by Jet Li, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro, so because they are who they are, audiences will feel for them. Even so, film seems to stall once the visual spectacle is out of the way. But things get messy during the second half of the film when we see less battle scenes and the love triangle between Zhao er Hu (Andy Lau), General Pang Qingyun (Jet Li) and Zhao er Hu's wife, Lian (Xu Jing Lei) is brought to the forefront of the film. Everything unravels into a tragic tale of betrayal.

It's really angsty, and we see lots of manly men crying. It's really over-the-top, and you just MIGHT start getting putt off by the film's sheer melodramatic emo-ness. I was enthralled at first, but I got cynical, and started feeling that the film might have gone rather overboard. And since character development and interaction were sacrificed in favour of the BLOODY AWESOME battle scenes, the tragedy that unfolds towards the end of the film feels forced and tacked on instead of genuinely emotional.

Despite a promising start that stems from a chance encounter, the relationship between Lian and Pang is rather meh-inducing. I suppressed a groan (but I cringed) at a scene where they chase each other through the army camp for a late-night tryst. Um, you'll know when you see it.

On the other hand, I don't think I've ever seen Jet Li weep that much in a film. (BTW: his salary in this film made him the highest-paid Asian actor)

Not a horrible film, not a good film either. First half is pretty good and badass, but second half... not so much. The battle scenes might worth the price of the ticket, but despite my relatively low expectations (good as he is, I don't expect Peter Chan to immediately craft a masterpiece from a genre he's never worked on before), I still think the film could've been so much better.


THE WARLORDS trailer


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

H2 ~ Kimi to itahibi 君といた日々(J-Dorama)



I'm still addicted to Japanese TV dorama. The latest marathon I had was 2005's H2~KIMI TO ITAHIBI, a baseball-themed romance adapted from the classic manga by Mitsuru Adachi.

Mitsuru Adachi's classic manga, H2


What Mitsuru Adachi's H2 is to baseball is what Takehiko Inoue's Slam Dunk is to basketball. I read a bit of the H2 manga series, and bought the last volume for collection, watched a few episodes of the original animated series as well, but since I was barely eleven then, I was put off by its languid pace and understated tone, DRAGON BALL Z and YUYU HAKUSHO were more appealing to me then.

Adachi's other baseball manga, TOUCH, was also adapted into a live-action film that I watched earlier this year.

Seriously, I don't know a thing about baseball, but I somehow find baseball films rather appealing, like the Dennis Quaid-starrer, THE ROOKIE, or the Robert Redford one, THE NATURAL. They just make the whole thing seem so freaking suspenseful! ... yet I can never sit through an actual baseball game whenever it was on ESPN. Lifelong NBA fan, me.

I think H2 stands for the two main male characters of the film whose names begin with H. Hiro Kunimi (Takayuki Yamada, the dude from the 'DENSHO OTOKO' film and the CRYING OUT LOVE, IN THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD TV dorama) and his best friend/archrival/love rival, Hideo Tachibana (Koutaro Tanaka, also in CRYING OUT LOVE, IN THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD dorama). Or H2 is actually referring to the names of the two females they are involved with, Hikaru and Haruki... basically, the names of the four main characters begin with H. But why isn't the thing called H4? Maybe it ain't as cool.

I'll just copy and paste the summary from Jdorama.com cos I'm lazy.


Hiro Kunimi (Takayuki Yamada) was an ace pitcher in junior high school,until he was diagnosed by a doctor as having a "glass elbow". He gave up baseball and joined Senkawa Senior High School's soccer team. But then something happens that reignites his passion for baseball and he joins a baseball team managed by Haruka Koga (Satomi Ishihara). And he finds himself in a match against his old rival Hideo Tachibana (Koutaro Tanaka) who has advanced to Meiwa No.1 High School. The meeting of the two is observed by Hidehiro's girlfriend Hikari Amamiya (Yui Ichikawa). Meanwhile, Haruka finds herself increasingly drawn towards Hiro, despite his being interested only in baseball. It's a story about high school students who dream of appearing at Koushien baseball tournament and young love.


Series director is Tsutsumi Yukihiko, who also co-directed the successful CRYING OUT LOVE, IN THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD dorama, and the TRICK series.

So, besides baseball, the series really centers on the love triangle between Hiro, Hikaru and Hideo. Hiro and Hikaru were childhood friends and Hikaru ended up going out with Hideo thanks to Hiro, and it all happened only when Hiro belatedly realized his own feelings for Hikaru. Lots of regret and angst. There's also the chaste budding romance between Haruka and Hiro.

It's engaging soap opera-stuff, but not as horrifyingly puke-inducing as I described, since, as I mentioned, Adachi's manga is often rather understated, and the TV dorama is rather faithful to its source material... most of the time. After all, at least the romance and the sport can co-exist well in H2... imagine if SLAM DUNK, or PRINCE OF TENNIS tried to go for some serious romantic subplots. Rabid fangirls dying to see the male characters going at it will be displeased.

No mindblowing acting here, everyone's serviceable, Takayuki Yamada's sheer deadpan expression throughout the whole film is similar to his manga counterpart. Unfortunately, Yui Ichikawa (who replaced Aoi Miyazaki in the bleh-inducing NANA 2) MIGHT be the weakest link here. I don't know whether it had to do with the characterization, or her performance, or whether I was just annoyed by her doe-eyed-ness. But her Hikari just wasn't that likeable a character, there is just something artificial about her. So I wonder whether the artificiality stemmed from the character herself, or Ichikawa's acting. If this is intended by the director, then maybe it's quite a success.

However, due to Hikaru's lack of appeal (something I didn't seem to feel in the original manga), audiences are more likely going to root for the romance between Hiro and Haruka, and Hiro's lamented lost love with Hikaru actually feels less tragic or heartfelt, and more petty and dumb (on his part).

Have to admit that I was BLINDED, yes, BLINDED by Satomi Ishihara's overwhelming CUTENESS as the klutzy Haruka. So... cute! And that wide smile, aahhhhhhhh!


Satomi Ishihara

Satomi Ishihara

Satomi Ishihara is sooo cute!


What sort of idiot would choose Hikaru over Haruka? I know I wouldn't. So for some strange reason, Hikaru feels like a villain in the series.

The entire series spans 3 years, so having three years worth of events, 41 volumes of manga, crammed into 11 episodes is a little dizzying. One thing I need to point out is that this is one of the most well-shot Japanese dorama series I've ever seen. Somehow, the cinematography here is really good, more so compared to many of the other higher-profile, bigger budget doramas (and even many feature films I've seen). Lots of scenes shot during the magic hour, thus increasing the romanticism when characters are standing at a wide sprawling grassy field, bathed in the golden lights of the setting sun.

The baseball scenes are aided by CGI effects, but they are still exciting to watch. After all, it's more or less an underdog story, so it's always cool to see Hiro Kunimi's insanely fast pitching, and then look forward to long-awaited final clash against Hideo, the star hitter.

Good series, though the whole Hiro - Hideo - Hikari triangie DOES become TOO melodramatic in the last few episodes, not as subtle and understated as Adachi's manga.

Currently starting to watch Takuya Kimura's KAREI-NARU ICHIZOKU (also bought during my trip in Taiwan), will voice out my thoughts once it's done.


Monday, December 10, 2007

CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY! My first screenplay in 18 months.

Hainanese Chicken RiceAfter completing my new short film screenplay, CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY yesterday, I realized in quiet horror that it is actually my first screenplay in 18 MONTHS. It's unbelievable that the last time I've ever completed a script (that's GIRL DISCONNECTED) was that long ago!

My writer's block had lasted fairly long. What caused this drought? Did I run out of ideas? Or was I merely demotivated? To take THAT LONG to actually write a script for a short film is a little sad.

There were numerous attempts to come up with a new short, but none of them actually went past the 'treatment' stage.

So it was actually quite a surprise to finish this new script in merely two days (throughout the weekend). I didn't expect that myself, but sometimes, ideas just seem to solidify and take form at the most unexpected of moments.

I remember a while ago when I told Sebastian that I never wanted to work on a particular (writing) project for too long because whatever enthusiasm I have would fade away very quickly if I leave things dormant. I am fickle. I boasted about having an endless pool of ideas that float inside my oversized head, and I would just pluck out whatever I want to do when I feel like it.

Lofty claim that felt true during my final year in university last year. A short screenplay would take me only a day or two to complete, and I remember actually writing 3 to 4 of them during the first half of 2006 (and then ended up filming VERTICAL DISTANCE), and then taking a slightly longer time for the 'passion project', GIRL DISCONNECTED.

This new short film is much smaller than GIRL DISCONNECTED in scale (no 'girl taking a flying train to the moon' this time), but perhaps a bigger challenge when it comes to filmmaking and acting as the storytelling and controlling of mood are much trickier. Besides, this is a comedy, so it makes things harder.

Yup, this time I just aim to do something entertaining and fun. It's a quirky whodunnit + film noir + Stephen Chow comedy + musical. Another genre-bender.

The title of this new short is THE CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY (an alternative title would be 'CHICKEN, RICE').

I'm still polishing up the screenplay based on the feedback I've gotten from my test readers from the past few days. After that, I'll probably start casting!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'The Golden Compass'

screenshot from The Golden Compass


Earlier this year, THE GOLDEN COMPASS was one of my most anticipated movies, I've in fact waited for it ever since the film was first announced years ago. I read the book when I was 12, and the rest of the trilogy when I was 20. I can say that Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy is one of my favourite fantasy trilogies of all-time.

But as the film's release date got nearer, it started getting horrible reviews, averaging a measly 43% at Rotten Tomatoes, and then Sebastian told me last night that it sucked. Maybe because of them, I ended up entering the cinemas this morning with zero expectations, fantasy films of the past two years hadn't been that good anyway. ERAGON and STARDUST were stinkers.

I don't remember the GOLDEN COMPASS book (I bought mine in UK, so it was called NORTHERN LIGHTS instead. Just like 'HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE' vs 'HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE', UK and US have different titles for the book) since I read it eleven years ago, so I could only remember certain scenes vaguely.

Which is a good thing, since I can watch the film with fresh eyes, without the burden of subconsciously comparing it to its source material.

Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot) and Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green) in THE GOLDEN COMPASSIt's hard to imagine Chris Weitz directing a big-budget film like this when his previous works were AMERICAN PIE, ABOUT A BOY and AMERICAN DREAMZ, but I can say that he's pretty competent here. Although maybe he's still not experienced enough to handle such a collossal project, so he couldn't really allow audiences to immerse themselves into the world of THE GOLDEN COMPASS like Peter Jackson did with the LOTR films.

Yes, the visual effects are nice, the protagonist Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards, a newcomer who did pretty well here) is interesting enough to engage my attention (unlike the very flat protagonists of Eragon and Stardust- Eragon and Tristan Thorne), the supporting characters (Nicole Kidman is in only 20 minutes of the film, while Daniel Craig and Eva Green are merely glorified cameos) are likable enough, and the whole 'daemons' idea was executed really well (all characters in the film are accompanied by animals that represent their souls... something like that. For the kids, these daemons shapeshifts) there's still this faint sense of artificiality about the world portrayed in the film. I wasn't bored, but I wasn't blown away either.

The film is unspectacular until Lyra runs into the more interesting characters, like Sam Elliot's Lee Scoresby and the Ian McKellen-voiced armored ice (polar) bear, Iorek Byrnison. Then the film truly picks up, and I started to see some nice setpieces, like Lyra entering the Svalbard, fortress of the ice bears, and the duel to the death between two ice bears, the final fight ain't too shabby either. Yet it's too late. The film merely shifts from 'mediocre' to 'somewhat entertaining', if the film had remained 'somewhat entertaining' from beginning to end, I may have a better impression of it.

Not to say that I think it's a shitty film, it's infinitely better than STARDUST or ERAGON, nearly as good as some HARRY POTTER films but not quite (most Harry Potter films are consistently entertaining), had some parts that are just as good as the so-so THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE... actually, come to think of it, I think I'll put Narnia and The Golden Compass just about equal. I wasn't as blown away by THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE as Sebastian (befuddlingly) was.

I don't think I like the film, nor do I hate it. I enjoy it enough towards the end to look forward to the sequels, SUBTLE KNIFE and AMBER SPYGLASS, which, I think can be really awesome if done properly into films, since the story gets so epic in scale that it's almost mindblowing, and they also have one of the most bittersweet romantic subplots I've ever read in a fantasy trilogy.

Unfortunately, the box-office returns of the film's first day hasn't been that impressive in US. It made only 9 million, so at most, it can only make 30 million in its weekend box-office (in comparison, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA made 65 million in its opening weekend back in 2005). Sorely lacking for the 180 million-budgeted film. Unless it has amazing legs, this might actually be one of the year's biggest flops!

Are people tired of fantasy films already? Maybe. Too bad this might end the possibilities of the sequels as well.


First 5 minutes of The Golden Compass


The Golden Compass trailer


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Chris Marker's La Jetée is awesome!



La Jetée Part 1


La Jetée Part 2


La Jetée Part 3



La Jetee's posterLa Jetée is a short film from the French New Wave by Chris Marker. It's a sci-fi film told entirely via voiceover narration and consists only of still photos. I watched it on DVD earlier this evening with Ming Jin and was definitely mesmerized and inspired.

Terry Gilliam's TWELVE MONKEYS (the one with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt) was a feature-length adaptation of this short film.

Due to La Jetée's length, it was often screened with another film in the theaters, and the film it accompanied was Jean-Luc Godard's ALPHAVILLE, which is, so far, my favourite Godard film. I can't think of a better film for La Jetée to screen alongside, seriously.

These are the kinds of sci-fi films I want to make, not those big-budget visual effects-heavy extravaganza.

Hope some of you peeps are willing to finish watching this thing (whole thing's 27 mins, each video is 9 mins) and tell me what you think.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Swifty Reviews 'Beowulf'

Angelina Jolie in Beowulf


BEOWULF is an entertaining film. Not as mindblowingly awesome as I hoped, nor as mindnumbingly shitty as I feared. The well-timed Austinpowersism (the term comes from Roger Ebert, which means "putting things in the foreground to keep you from seeing the family jewels") is funny.

But I don't think my life will be any different whether I've seen the film or not.

Director Robert Zemeckis had been experimenting a lot with his motion-capture technology these days. I enjoyed the first two thirds of 2004's THE POLAR EXPRESS because when the kids were taking the train to the North Pole, it was awesome as heck, but everything went downhill after that.

Animation looks smoother in this film, but I still have some reservations about the motion-capture technology. Everything still feels like a cut-scene from a PS3 game. Think the film would've been more badass if it were done like 300. This film is rather manly, but not as manly as 300. 300 has more quotable lines.

Would love to see Robert Zemeckis make live-action films again. I want the Zemeckis of Castaway, Forrest Gump and Back To The Future films. As much as he loves to play with special effects, I still think special effects should only be part of his film, not all.

A more detailed review of the film can be read on my friend, Sebastian's post. Though he was discussing more about 3D cinema than the actual film itself.

Anyway, the following is a MSN conversation I had with Sebastian regarding the film.

Warning: Contains spoilers!!!

I said:
I saw Beowulf.
He said:
in 3D?
I said:
Nah.
He said:
normal cinemas are playing it in 3D right?
I said:
Normal. Feels somewhat lacking.
He said:
of course you fucking idiot, it can only be watched in 3D
I said:
Yeah. There were just some scenes which made me went "Damn, this should be watched in 3D!"
He said:
how did they handle the violence?
He said:
the severing of grendel's arm, of beowulf's
I said:
A lot of it were there, even nude Angelina Jolie.
I said:
Got all those.
He said:
even her pubes?
I said:
Oh, not that. I think there was a sudden cut when she emerged from the water the first time.
He said:
ah, there we go
He said:
she doesnt really have a pubic area
He said:
it's smooth
I said:
Hm. But other than that, I don't think there were that many cuts.
I said:
Not really that much of a fan of this motion-capture technology.
I said:
Should either go full-blown animation, or do something like 300.
I said:
There's just something stiff and lifeless about the people in Beowulf. As much as they looked like Anthony Hopkins or John Malkovich. Hmm.
He said:
i agree
I said:
Was a little different from the actual poem.
I said:
Beowulf in the poem is a pure superhero.
He said:
but gaiman found a good way to make him flawed
I said:
Gaiman likes to do things like that.
He said:
i mean, being seduced by angelina jolie? that's brilliant
He said:
oh, didnt know that ... dunno anything about gaiman
I said:
Been doing that since Sandman. And in 'Smokes and Mirrors', he even had this short story which made Snow White the bitch and the queen the victim.



Beowulf trailer

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